Ditch the Label- Train the dog

Ditch the Label- Train the dog

Labels: We have all used them.  We use them as explanations for a dog’s behaviour and even for not dog training is simplebeing able to train particular dogs.  They are frequently used to blame the dog for training failures when the trainer reaches the end of their knowledge and abilities.  Labels are sometimes used to justify using unnecessary punishments on dogs.

Labels are often invented and used by “dog whisperers” to mystify dog behaviour even though dog behaviour is really very simple.

I’m going to throw these out there, and you just see if you recognize or even use any of them:

Dog training labels

  • Abused
  • Bad
  • Good
  • Aggressive
  • Alpha
  • Calm submissive
  • Dominant
  • Stubborn
  • He’s a ___________ (fill in breed name)
  • Difficult
  • Dumb
  • Smart
  • Impossible

Labels do nothing to help train a dog.  Too often, a label is an excuse for not training a dog or even for using harsh training methods on a dog.  Using them is not helping you or the dog.

All animal  and human behaviour is based on just 3 things: 

  1. Antecedent. (What happens right before the behaviour happens)
  2. Behaviour. (What the animal does)
  3. Consequence. (What happens right after the behaviour)

Dogs do what works for them to get things they want, or to avoid things they don’t want.  There are no exceptions to this.  This means, when your puppy jumps up on your guests, and getting reinforced with interaction (off! No! Down! are attention too!) he is not being dominant, there is no complexity in the greeting ritual.   Here is how the behaviour sequence looks:

  1. Antecedent: Guest arrives.
  2. Behaviour: Puppy jumps up
  3. Concequence: Puppy is told “off!”or “down”  

With this sequence, Puppy is likely to continue jumping up, as “off” or “down” mean nothing to him and he is way too excited to care anyway.  As far as he is concerned, “off” and “down” are sounds humans  make when they greet him.

Another way it could happen is this:

  1. Antecedent: Guest arrives
  2. Behaviour: Puppy jumps up and then sits down
  3. Consequence: Puppy is reinforced with praise and a treat

With this sequence, Puppy is likely to continue the jumping and then sitting


  1. Antecendent: Guest arrives
  2. Behaviour: Puppy has four paws on the floor
  3. Consequence: Puppy is reinforced with praise, quickly followed by  a treat

With this sequence, puppy is likely to keep his feet on the floor.  Once he is used to this, we can start to add another behaviour, like “sit”.

If training is failing, it might be due to a failure in simplicity, timing, or consistency.  We need to be sure not to ask for too much too soon.  Training failures are never due to the dog being unbalanced or dominant or because he is a _________. There is no room for labels in the application of behaviour principles in dog training.   If a dog is not doing what we want him to do, we have to stop labelling (and blaming) him and adjust our training plan so that he can understand it easily.

For more info, check out our website at: http://www.bcdogtrainer.com

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